Everyone deserves a chance at a quality education!
Maryland’s oldest HBCU, Bowie State University, has partnered with Jessup Correctional Institute (JCI) to ensure that incarcerated individuals have the ability to earn their college degree, CBS News reports. Previously, those serving their time behind bars used to always have access to advancing their education. But in an effort to create a “tough on crime” approach, former President Bill Clinton outlawed access to federal Pell grants funding college prison programs in his 1994 crime bill. However, President Barack Obama reinstated a pilot program in 2015 and in 2020, Congress passed a law fully reinstating college programs for all incarcerated people regardless of their sentence.
As a result, HBCUs have been leading the charge to enroll students, Mississippi Valley State University becoming the first HBCU in the state to offer a college program to those incarcerated. Now Bowie State University has also followed suit, using the Second Chance Pell Grant program to kick off their program this past Fall, offering inmates at JCI a chance to earn their college degrees. Damon McDuffie, who has been incarcerated at JCI for the last three years has called the program motivating, inspiring him to get his GED so he could begin classes.
“Being around people that’s been locked up since they’ve been teenagers, or don’t have education or support - it motivates you to do better,” said McDuffie.
He is now a current Bowie State student at JCI, earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology as one of nine incarcerated individuals in the program. McDuffie said the best part is that he gets to attend an HBCU like his sister.
“My sister actually goes to Delaware State University, so we’re both in HBCUs. My mother kind of happy about…that,” he explained.
Kyle Longerbean is also a student in the program, saying that returning to school has allowed him to connect more with his son.
“[I’ll tell him] I might be in prison, but I’m still getting A’s and B’s. I’m 37-years-old and dad’s still in school, so you can do it. He has no excuse now,” said Longerbean.
Carolyn J. Scruggs, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said education is high on the priority list for those who are incarcerated. Scruggs said it’s bigger than just a degree for them, it fosters hope and gives those who are already going through a rough time a sense of purpose.
“It gives them a sense of pride. It actually changes the climate within how they move every day. Now they feel better than themselves, I would say,” Scruggs explained.
Bowie State hopes to expand the program, adding more degree options and eventually partnering with a women’s correctional facility in the future. A bright light for those who are incarcerated, these programs represent progress for both free and imprisoned communities.
Cover photo: Bowie State partners with Jessup Correctional Institute to help incarcerated individuals earn degrees/Bowie State JCI student Jermain Williams/Photo Courtesy of Kate Ryan/WTOP news